Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe and updated by Inoka Ho
The spiritual capital of Australia and home to almost a quarter of its population, Sydney sprawls along the shores and cliffs of the Tasman Sea, unfolding parks, skyscrapers, piers, landmarks and pretty Victorian suburbs into those long, flat horizons Australia does so well.
Sydney is bold, it's beautiful, and it has no qualms showing off its charms.
In terms of getting around? Well, the heart of Sydney is relatively small. Most upscale cocktail bars cluster downtown in the CBD, an area, like most city centres, best experienced earlier in the week, before the bridge 'n' tunnel crowd deluge it at weekends. Thanks to the laws that prohibit entry after 1.30 am in the area, many boho bars have moved out from Kings Cross where they once clustered, into Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and further afield into Redfern, Bondi and Newtown. Plenty of bars make their own syrups and go to a real effort to source fresh ingredients, rare spirits and bitters. Perhaps due in part to the lockout laws and a need to shift their focus to continue drawing in the crowds, but more bars are upping their game in the food stakes, with the lines between restaurant and bar becoming increasingly blurred.
All in all, even the most anoraky cocktailian will be able to spend many a happy evening in Sydney's bars. And any fan of beer is in for a real treat, too.
Ten recommended bars in Sydney:
Consistently ranked as one of the world’s top bars, Baxter Inn has cemented itself as Sydney’s top destination if you’re a whisky lover, thanks largely to that liquid library it calls a backbar. With no signs of its popularity waning anytime soon, be prepared to wait your turn and speak up if you want to be heard.
If Baxter Inn has established itself as the go-to whisky bar in Sydney, then its alleyway neighbour can lay claim to being the city’s go-to gin bar. Push the sliding door at the back of the barber shop out front on York Street, or jump across from the Baxter out back, and you'll be rewarded with a Victoriana gin palace that'll keep you happy for hours.
With Sydney’s infamous lockout laws calling time on many a venue, Big Poppa's is a breath of fresh air in a city that has limited offerings beyond the witching hour. Here, you can eschew the usual kebabs at midnight and take your pick from a dining menu worthy of display at some of the better Italian restaurants in town, all served with a side of hip hop and some mighty fine cheeses, wine and cocktails. The best thing? They’re open until 3 am. Every. Single. Day.
What Bitter Phew lacks in design aesthetics it makes up for with an interesting craft beer list, both in the selection on tap and by the pint. Whether you are a serious beer enthusiast or novice, you’re best to take your cue from the knowledgeable bar staff; the selection here is eclectic enough to turn up something to satisfy the curiosity of even the most seasoned of drinkers.
Arguably the stalwart of the cocktail scene in Sydney, Bulletin Place is home to some of the city’s top bar talent, including Australia’s only global winner of the World Class Cocktail Competition, Tim Philips. With a cocktail menu that rotates daily, this small bar epitomises seasonal drinking at its every day best.
Part of the Merivale stable of bars, Charlie Parker’s is located below eatery Fred. It’s moody atmosphere evokes a sense of elegance which flows on to the drinks menu, where what appear to be simple concoctions often belie the complexity of techniques that have gone into their production. The botanical driven menu and anatomical approach has echoes of Dandelyan in London but despite those lofty comparisons, this is still very much a neighbourhood bar at heart, albeit a very classy one.
Tucked away on a quiet side street past the hubbub of Newtown’s main drag, what looks like a dine in deli on the ground level hides an elegant dining area on the first floor that offers up some seriously good eats and drinks. Most famous for its canned cocktails, sadly you won’t be able to takeaway a Can-hattan or Mar-tinny just yet so all the more reason to pull up a seat at the bar and wash it all down with a cheese and cold meats platter from the deli.
Inspired by the 1944 Liberation of Paris, Kittyhawk epitomises a certain old world glamour that is befitting of its décor. Located smack bang in the middle of corporate central, it is a popular destination for the suited and booted crowd but personable bar staff have not lost the fun memo when it comes to service. So don’t bat an eyelid if you find one breaking into song or another breathing fire when fixing up your drink. Whilst their wine and beer list are solid, the rum and rye focussed cocktail list (and backbar) is what you should be concentrating on.
With the likes of Eau de Vie and Roosevelt behind its belt, the latest offering from long time bar operators Speakeasy Group is also its most brash, and unapologetically so. The Viking “swords and shit” theme lends itself to drinks being served out of horns and diners choosing from a leather roll of knives for a weapon of choice with which to (figuratively) slay their meat. Whilst this is a restaurant first and foremost, there is also a dedicated bar area at which to slake your thirst from the whisky heavy list.
10 William Street
If wine is your jam, 10 William Street will deliver in spades. It’s intimate bistro like space belies an extensive but on point wine list that is dominated by the European varietals. With some serious talent behind the pans both past and present, expect “snacks” here to be of restaurant quality.